In the fall of 2013, Liz Palma (LA ’16) and Rebeca Pessoa (LA ’16) conceived of the idea to found Tufts United for Immigrant Justice (UIJ) after attending a national conference the year prior organized by the Student Immigration Movement (SIM), which works to mobilize young people on immigration issues in Massachusetts. This year marks the start of the student group’s fifth year on campus.
UIJ is a student group dedicated to learning, sharing, discussing and fighting for immigrant justice at Tufts, in Massachusetts and across the country, according to the group’s Facebook page.
Senior Ana Manriquez, UIJ’s off-campus coordinator, explained the involvement and emotional investment that comes with the work they do.
“As an immigrant, these issues are a part of my life, and I couldn’t run away from them even if I wanted to,” Manriquez said. “Our group is made up of people spanning engineers to art students. We’re all doing the same work because for some of us it’s our life, but for all of us it’s a really strong passion.”
UIJ’s first event was “Raise Up Massachusetts: Rally for a Higher Minimum Wage,” a rally in Davis Square held on Nov. 9, 2013. Co-hosted by the Tufts Labor Coalition and Tufts Democrats, the purpose of Raise Up was to showcase the close relationship of labor issues and immigration issues.
Senior Emma Kahn, UIJ’s on-campus coordinator, joined during her first year at Tufts after listening to a member speak at her “One Community, Many Stories” orientation panel.
“Before I was a part of UIJ, the group was talking about doing group education and communal learning,” Kahn said. “And then when I joined [in the fall of 2014] the focus became this big campaign to make Tufts undocumented-friendly in our admissions policy.”
In November 2014, UIJ brought forth the “Resolution to Establish Equal Opportunity for Undocumented Students,” which the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate passed 27–0–1.
According to the resolution, Tufts’ policy at the time required prospective students with undocumented status to apply as international students, preventing them from receiving financial aid that was “prohibiting many or most undocumented students from attending Tufts.”
The resolution urged the administration to consider undocumented students as domestic rather than international students, and to grant them the same need-based financial aid that domestic students are awarded.
Later that academic year, at an April 2015 rally held by UIJ, former Dean of Admissions Lee Coffin announced that Tufts would now consider all undocumented student applicants to the university as domestic applicants, including, but not limited to, students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, and meet 100 percent of the demonstrated need of every undocumented student offered admission to Tufts.
In conjunction, University President Anthony Monaco released a statement in support.
“Tufts is pleased to join with Tufts United for Immigrant Justice in supporting higher education equity,” he wrote. “Both undocumented students with and without DACA deserve an opportunity for higher education in our country … We welcome these applicants and the value that they will add to our undergraduate student body.”
Senior Lupita Estela, co-president of UIJ, joined the group near the time when the demand for education equity for undocumented students interested in attending Tufts was a central focus of the group.
“One of the main reasons why the group was formed was accomplished, and how many groups can say that?” Estela said. “A lot of the inspiration for students to be a part of this work has remained despite our objectives or directions changing.”
Manriquez explained that, leading up to Tufts’ announcement and support of undocumented students with and without DACA, UIJ members met with administrators to push for higher education equity.
“As a freshman, being involved with everything to allow undocumented students to attend Tufts has really marked my time at Tufts,” Manriquez said. “Seeing the progression of our five-year plan from advocating for undocumented students to attend Tufts, to today where we have a lot of resources for undocumented students, makes me extremely proud.”
While UIJ had successfully accomplished its major goal, their work was not done. For Kahn and fellow UIJ members, there was still the matter of ensuring support and resources for undocumented students during and after their time at Tufts, and more generally creating an atmosphere at Tufts friendly to students with undocumented status.
“We [UIJ] started with the goal of this policy change,” Kahn said. “Once that was accomplished we spent the 2015–2016 academic year working to help create this new task force with administrative members, in order to make sure the transition was smooth for undocumented students.”
According to Estela and Manriquez, the working group responsible for supporting undocumented students at Tufts currently consists of Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon, Latino Center Director Julián Cancino and Associate Dean for Student Success and Advising Robert Mack.
The group aims to educate and increase sensitivity on Tufts’ campus for the challenges undocumented students face in higher education, as well as work to solve them, according to Kahn. Estela emphasized the importance of UIJ working together with the Tufts administration to tackle these challenges.
“It’s very important for us to have an open line of communication with the administration,” Estela said. “We are a group that advocates for students on campus and at the end of the day they [administrators] are the ones making decisions.”
While current information about the number of students with undocumented status in the Class of 2021 could not be obtained, according to a May 22, 2016 Daily article, students with DACA and undocumented status were accepted into the Class of 2019 and Class of 2020.
Since its creation in 2012, DACA allowed undocumented immigrants who entered the United States under the age of 16 to apply for temporary protection from deportation. However, the election of President Donald Trump has put the future of DACA in jeopardy.
As a result, Monaco released a statement in November 2016 calling for an enhancement of Tufts’ commitment to its undocumented students in the face of possible changes in federal immigration law under Trump’s administration.
President Monaco said that the university would not provide information on DACA and undocumented students or assist in the enforcement of immigration laws. While Monaco did not designate Tufts specifically as a sanctuary campus, his promises met many of the demands in the petition for sanctuary status.
“With the DACA removal announcement, our biggest hope was that the university would publicly condemn the removal of DACA and reaffirm its commitment to supporting undocumented students, and they did that,” Kahn said.
Over the past several years UIJ has strived to fill the lack of discussion on immigration issues at Tufts. The group has worked to create a dialogue about immigration issues at Tufts and enable undocumented students to pursue higher education.
“We’re now looking more at how undocumented students live at Tufts, as well as educating our own campus,” Estela said. “A lot of students aren’t aware that this is something that’s going on at their school and these are peers they have classes with, but as a campus we still are responsible for creating an inclusive space.”
According to Kahn, through the group’s four pillars — healing, visibility, liaison and education — UIJ hopes to address the needs of undocumented students on campus and continue the dialogue members have enabled.
“We want to help educate our peers and bridge those gaps between the student body and the administrative offices that are working with us,” Kahn said. “We want to continue to be a strong advocacy voice and be hypervisible on campus so people are not allowed to forget undocumented status affects our community.”